Offering your leader some feedback may be the last thing you want to do at work for all sorts of reasons. Maybe you feel intimidated. Maybe they have never asked for feedback. Perhaps you’re not at all sure how it will be received or you don’t want to offend them. You wonder if it’s your place to offer feedback “upwards”? You have no idea what the consequences might be. You may fear retaliation. You’re afraid you might lose your job! OK, there is a long list of reasons to avoid this altogether, but let’s look at the possibilities you can create if you do step up to the feedback conversation.
Your manager may have no clear idea how they are impacting your work day, either positively or negatively. Don’t assume they know. Why would they make your life more difficult on purpose? Almost all managers come to work every day with the best of intentions for themselves, the team and the organization. They want (and need) everyone to be productive, happy and successful. If you were the manager and you were negatively impacting someone’s motivation, performance, efficiency, job satisfaction, happiness, productivity, quality or even fulfillment, wouldn’t you want to know?
Giving your manager feedback on their performance, approach or behavior is not only a best practice in leadership development, it is the most respectful thing you can do. It’s actually disrespectful to hold back information that could support them in their development! If your manager is doing things that negatively impact you, they will continue to happen until they understand the impact they are having. Most managers want to know! Most managers want to have a positive impact on you and your work all the time.
If you don’t offer your manager feedback on a behavior that is detrimental to you, then you are actually giving them permission to continue to behave this way.
Giving upward feedback results in improved management effectiveness and, importantly, improved employee engagement and job satisfaction. It works out better for both of you! So, if you can get comfortable with the reasons why to give your manager feedback, we can offer some help with the critical aspect of how to do it.
Here are our top ten tips for how to give your manager some great feedback, presented as a set of Do’s and Don’ts:
Let’s briefly talk about each one.
Create a Positive, Trusting Relationship First
Your manager needs to trust you enough to say yes to receiving feedback from you. For this delicate conversation to happen you need an adequate degree of trust and positivity between you. If it’s not there yet, then work on it. Improving the relationship with your leader is always an excellent thing to focus on and make both your work lives easier, more comfortable and effective.
Ask Permission and Explain Your Intention
Don’t assume it’s OK to offer feedback. It’s best to ‘prime’ it by asking for permission, which will also gauge your manager’s receptivity. Here’s an example of how to ask: “Mike, I was wondering how open you’d be to hearing some feedback from me occasionally. Just like you help guide my development, I may be able to support yours too. My intention is to offer some honest feedback to support and help you, not to criticize. Would you be open to having conversations like this?” Explaining your motivations in this way will help your manager feel safer and be more comfortable having the conversation. Here’s another example of explaining intentions: “Mike, my intention here is not to whine or criticize anything that’s happened, I just have a couple of suggestions to improve how we work together, and I have both our best interests at heart. OK?”
Be Thoughtful, Prepare Well, Make Notes
Think about any biases or judgments you may hold and consider how to be more objective. Think about their personality and style and how you could adapt to it (e.g. fast and to the point, or more deliberate and slower paced). Be succinct and deal with only one or two concerns. Make notes about what you want to say and consider the choice of words carefully so as not to be harsh or inflammatory. It is ok to take these notes with you and refer to them, especially if you are clear that the reason you have them is that this conversation is important to you and you want it to go well for both of you. The fact that you have thought it through shows that you care.
Be Authentic, Sincere and Show Empathy
As well as staying calm and professional, be honest and sincere. Talk frankly and in a straightforward manner with some heartfelt intentions. Don’t try to be devious or manipulate the situation, your manager will probably sense it if you’re not being truthful. Also, a little empathy will go a long way. Your manager is human after all. Put yourself in their shoes. What is their world like and what could be going on for them? What problems are they facing and what is their workload like?
Focus on Your Perspective. Describe Observed Behavior and give Specific Example(s)
Don’t speak on behalf of others or assume they have the same opinions as you. Stand up for yourself in a candid but tentative way. Use “me” and “I” language. Here’s an example which also describes a specific example of observed behavior: “Sarah, when we were talking about the project yesterday you stood up, raised your voice and even banged your hand on the table. That really scared me. It also upset me because I was trying to explain the full story of why we are running late, and I found it hard to speak because you were behaving that way. I’m sorry but that way of acting is very upsetting and is not OK with me. Please could we talk about how to handle that type of issue more calmly and positively in the future?” Here’s a way not to say it, “Sarah, when you got angry because you assumed I was to blame you were wrong. It wasn’t my fault. And don’t you dare get pissed off at me like that in front of other people.”
Be Open to Different Views from Your Manager
It’s probably a good idea to assume that your manager may see any given situation differently than you. Either by a small margin or by a lot! We all see things differently based on our own unique, personal lens through which we view the world. That’s why a tentative approach helps provide room for your manager’s view as well as yours. Even better, invite their opinion in, like this for example: “Anyway, that’s the way I saw it Mike. I’m sure you may have a different view and I’d like to hear it.”
Describe the Impact on You and Your Work
Most managers will be very interested in anything that negatively impacts your work. Sometimes, a person’s behavior doesn’t change unless they realize the full impact that their behavior is having on others. That’s why you found the courage to have this feedback conversation in the first place. Here’s how to say it: “Sarah, when you did that, I was shocked. I felt shut down and belittled. I had no room to speak and frankly felt too upset to offer anything in the moment. I also had a suggestion to make that would save some project time, but I spent the rest of the afternoon avoiding coming to you because I wanted to stay out of your way.”
Suggest What Could Work Better for You Going Forward
No one can change the past, so try not to focus on it, and don’t spend your time complaining about what has happened. It is far more effective and more positive to focus on the future and how your manager could change his or her approach next time around. Keep the focus of this part of the conversation on the impact on you. Remember to keep using tentative language, for example “could” instead of “should”, for example, “Next time you’re frustrated with the progress it would help me a lot if you could stay calm. That would help me not get upset so I can give you the full story and offer a solution.”
Thank them for the Opportunity
It is a gracious gesture for any manager to say yes to hearing your feedback. As you know, feedback on one’s performance or behavior can be hard to hear, especially if you are unaware of it. So, say thank you. Here’s a way to do this while also checking in to see how things are between you at the end of the conversation. “Thank you for listening Mike, I really appreciate that. I hope the way I gave you this feedback was OK?”
Even though the idea of offering your manager some feedback or raising important concerns might make you anxious, the main reason for doing so is to improve the working relationship between you and make it more effective and enjoyable, which is great for both of you. It takes some care and some thought to approach this appropriately, but in the end it not only helps you both succeed, it also improves relationships and sets the example that feedback is important and normal, regardless of your role on the team.